Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.…”

Thomas Jefferson hadn’t known about teacher certification, approved textbooks, or minimum competency testing when he helped write the Bill of Rights. Otherwise, his brief First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution might have been more specific, dealing with church schools, as well as churches.

As it stands now, however, the courts must decide how the 200-year-old amendment applies to religious freedom in the twentieth century and—due to the present Christian school phenomena—how it applies to state regulation of private and church-related schools.

The rapid growth of private and church-related schools now is matched only by the increasing number of court battles that put the individual states and church schools in direct opposition.

Each faction has a strong case. The states argue that students should be guaranteed a basic education, and they often want to monitor all state schools to make sure that this education is being provided. The monitoring process may involve mandatory annual reports filed by the schools or more direct involvement, such as conforming to public school standards.

The church-related and private schools also want to give their students a basic education—but in their own way and without government interference. They say that Christian day schools are no different from any other church ministry: Government involvement in the church school would be the same as involvement in the church, itself, and violate their constitutional right to religious freedom.

A recent legal bout between the state of North Carolina and sixty-three of its Christian fundamentalist schools showed the church-state controversy ...

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